Lafayette’s The Mound Builders first appeared on my radar after listening to a local music compilation that our friends in Doomed & Stoned put out in March of 2016. Being new to the local music scene, I was immediately impressed by the diversity and quality of music included in the collection, with The Mound Builders being notably memorable. Their aggressive approach to stoner music with bits of doom and punk added make them one of the bigger standout acts from our home state, and their Wabash War Machine quickly became an album that I put on heavy rotation and still enjoy listening to today.
After the release of their 7″ Split Hits the Fan, the group is set to release their upcoming self-titled album via Failure Records and Tapes (preorder here) on January 18th, and we couldn’t be more stoked to be able to share a track with our loyal Vault Hunters. Scroll down to listen to “Hair of the Dogma,” and then scroll down further to read our interview with drummer Jason “Dinger” Brookhart and vocalist Jim Voelz. Also, make sure you catch their appearance at N8Fest on December 8th at the North End Pub in Lafayette. The show–which also includes Fight Like Sin, We’d Be, Walk Among Us, Redtail, Hatesong, and Calvacade–is a benefit concert in honor of their late friend and bandmate Nathan Malher who passed away from leukemia in April 2015.
Jason: We got started in late 2008 after I replied to an online post my wife found on the old Lafayette Music League forum. Brian, our guitarist, had put up this post about starting a band, and I saw we shared some of the same tastes in music, so I replied with influences like Clutch, COC, Sepultura, Down, Helmet, Snapcase, and SOIA. We met in person at a local bar, decided to jam, and haven’t really stopped since. Brian knew more people in the Lafayette scene than I did at the time, so really he was responsible for bringing everyone together at the very beginning.
Jim: I came along in the summer of 2009, a little bit after the band had formed. The dudes had a few singers before me that hadn’t really stuck. I was playing in some roots rock acts at the time when a mutual friend Ian Gerber asked me if I’d be interested in trying out for this band, the Mound Builders. Up until then, I had only been in punk and country bands. I’ve always loved metal but had never been in an actual metal band. It sounded fun, so I tried out and they actually decided to keep me! Two months later I played my first show with them. Two more months later we recorded our first album, Strangers in a Strange Land.
IMV: I always liked how you guys do your own thing and your music isn’t easily definable. Some songs are sludgy, whereas others are more doom or punk depending on the tempo. Performance wise, I feel like you’re kind of a utility band where you could be paired with bands from other genres, stand out on your own, but compliment the show as a whole. How intentional and thought out is your sound, or is it just a culmination of influences? To you guys, what makes a song a “Mound Builders” song?
Jason: “Utility band”… I like that. But yeah, we’ve found over the years that mixed bills seem work out better for us. Playing shows like Punk Rock Night at the Melody Inn is a perfect example of that. I really think our sound is a culmination of our individual influences, playing styles, and longevity. As we continue to play music together, we are being influenced by each other, as well as by the other bands we play with.
Jim: It’s taken us a while to figure it out, but we’ve finally begun solidifying the sound we were after for so many years. With all of us coming from different musical backgrounds and tastes, it was inevitable that it would surface in the writing. Our Wabash War Machine EP was kind of an unintentional sample of the new direction. Each song had its own identity–the metal song, the stoner rock song, the punk song, the doom song… and after a while we began thinking, “What if our songs just had ALL those elements together?”
IMV: Your new self-titled album sounds great. The songs are tight and hit hard, and they’ve got an anthem-like quality where you can’t help but play along and shout out the choruses. Can you tell us a little bit about the album? Where did you record it at? Who recorded it? How long had you been working on material for it? Were there any music releases that came out between your last album and this one that influenced it?
Jason: When we started writing these songs we had a concept in mind: we wanted to write a collection of songs that went together, that complimented each other, almost a throwback to albums from the ’60s and ’70s in that sense. We were also learning how to write music as a four-piece. A couple songs that we ended up keeping for this recording, “Star City” and “Regolith,” we had written with our former rhythm guitarist Nathan Malher before he passed. The other six songs were written over the course of about two years while we kept playing shows to finance the recording.
Jim: We decided to take a bit of a different approach overall for the recording process. We did a little experiment for a 7″ split where we tracked live in our friend Daniel Favors’ studio, the Doomsday Compound. We were very happy with results and thought this could work for the album–thank God it did!
Jason: Ultimately, finances dictated more than we would like to admit, and it became clear that the only way to somewhat achieve our goal of a real album was to record it live.
Jim: Yeah, tracking in the traditional sense is very costly, so we’ve been limited to EP and split releases in the years since Strangers in a Strange Land. We actually intended to start tracking last year but realized the material probably wasn’t there yet, so we rescheduled to the March of earlier this year with Matt Talbot at Earth Analog.
Jason: We went to Matt’s studio in Tolono, Illinois over the Easter weekend of this year and recorded almost everything live and directly to tape, all eight songs in right around fifteen total hours. All drum tracks are one continuous take with no edits. Most guitar and bass tracks are continuous takes with no edits. We had to overdub a few guitar solos and some of the vocal tracks after the recording session but other than that the album is completely live.
IMV: What plans do you have after the album is released? Are you going to do a release show or a short tour? Since the album is being released through Failure Records and Tapes, will you be doing a vinyl and cassette release?
Jim: It’s been an incredibly busy year for us. We re-released Wabash War Machine with two bonus tracks back in April, and then dropped the aforementioned 7″ in May, so this will mark the third release for 2018!
Jason: We are planning three separate releases for the new album. Here’s the timeline: the CDs are available December 10th, digital distribution goes live on December 25th, and the vinyl drops on January 25th. We may consider a cassette release in the future if there’s demand for it.
Jim: The plan is to do some release shows in Lafayette and Indianapolis, and then we’ll be back into our regular rotation. We can’t exactly tour given some of our life commitments, but we play out monthly all over the Midwest. We’ve already got shows lined up in Louisville, Tolono, and Bloomington, Illinois, plus we are making plans to hit Chicago, Cincinnati, Nashville, Detroit, Lansing, Grand Rapids, Milwaukee, and Madison.
IMV: Other than your music, one of the things I dig about you guys is that you seem to celebrate where you’re from. The band is named after the ancient Native American cultures of the Midwest. Your album Wabash War Machine takes its name from the mighty river that flows through Indiana, Illinois, and Ohio, and the artwork depicts the pre-mentioned indigenous people of the Midwest. What is the importance of using these themes in your music?
Jim: We’ve definitely absorbed our local history, folklore, and geography into some of our songs. Brian and I are fascinated with things like ancient civilizations and rituals, so those themes easily spawn fresh material. Indiana is rich with history, and we are always researching and discussing different topics related to our past and present for potential song titles and ideas. We live here and like to think that to some degree we are documenting some of the region’s lore. Some of the newer material is a little broader and less region-specific. A lot of the lyrics I wrote have a darker undertone as I was at the time reading a lot about things like technology, world politics, and religion.
IMV: When I went to Ball State, my friends and I would regularly go to shows to see local acts. That was just part of the college experience for us, and I never thought anything of it. There were just more opportunities to see different bands that were often times better than what we could see around our hometowns. Seeing as how Lafayette has Purdue University, what kind of impact has the college had on your music and the local scene? Do you guys get a lot of college kids at your shows?
Jim: It’s been interesting to observe the ebb and flow of our music community over the years. I mean, I’ve been going to shows in Lafayette since I was 12 years old! The area sees a high turnover of people living here, so the scene has had its ups and downs. When I was younger, there were more student-organized shows. I was constantly going to house shows, and there used to be a few venues on campus that regularly featured punk, metal, and rock and roll bands. But naturally over time, people graduate and move away, and lately, it doesn’t seem like anyone has picked up where those college kids left off. All the venues on campus have also closed since then, so that doesn’t help either. So without a lot of venue options, especially all-ages ones, we don’t interact with the college crowd as much as we would like to.
IMV: I’m sorry to say that as of a couple of years ago, your band was the only one from Lafayette that was on my radar. Now I’ve been turned on to bands like The Enders, We’d Be, and Fight Like Sin. What are some of your favorite acts from the area that you feel deserve some recognition? What Indiana bands outside of Lafayette do you follow?
Jim: Ohh man, there are too many to name them all! Indiana has such a vibrant scene! For Lafayette’s punk and metal, there are bands like Lucifist, Yesterday’s Chips, Redtail, Dopplepopolis, Kossuth, Dissonance and Dissent, The Enstrangers (shameless plug of my other band!)
Jason: Other Indiana punk and metal bands we’ve been digging are Devil to Pay, Cocaine Wolves, Photian Schism, Think Tank, Apostle of Solitude, Hatesong, Astral Mass…
Jim: Swamp Squat, Blast Cap, Bullhive, the Sluts, The Run Up, The Katatonics, Hailshot, Void King, Coffinworm, Shroud of Vulture, Steed, Conjurer, Archarus, River Bottom Nightmare Band… there’s just too many to list!
IMV: You guys do an annual benefit show every year in honor of bandmate Nathan Malher, who passed away from leukemia in 2015. Can you tell us a little bit about the festival? What charities are you contributing to this year? What kind of impact did Nathan have on your music?
Jason: The impact Nathan had and still has on our music is immeasurable. Each of us had a unique relationship with Nate, and I think the loss affected us each in a different way. After he passed, we had to decide as a group what we were going to do with this thing we created with him, and we figured that he would want us to continue what we started together. I like to think we each channel a little bit of his energy every now and then when we take the stage. He was always the one moving around everywhere and trying to engage the crowd, and now we all take that on. We all play like it’s our last show. Losing Nate was a devastating loss for us personally and as a band, but I think it ultimately brought us closer together.
Jim: As for the festival N8FEST, each year we get six to seven bands together at the North End Pub (formerly Jerilee’s) to raise money for the Purdue Center for Cancer Research and Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library. Purdue Center for Cancer Research utilizes 100% of the donations to research, and lately, they’ve made a ton of breakthroughs in diagnosis and treatment. Our local Imagination Library is a great program that promotes child literacy and donates books to local children. Nathan was extremely fond of the program and learned that it was underfunded, so we give to them every year as well.
IMV: Two of your members recently released a demo for their instrumental Game of Thrones-themed band Mormont. Like a lot of people, I’m also a fan of GoT, so I was pretty tickled when I caught wind of the demo. How did that band come together, and are there plans to do a studio release?
Jason: Mormont is a direct result of the band being offered badass shows that not everyone could commit to, but we in the rhythm section still didn’t want to pass up. We also didn’t want to lose practice during periods where the band was taking time off. So on one such occasion, our bassist Ryan called me up and pitched an idea of just jamming around on our own to fill up a 25-minute set. Mormont is probably 70% improvisational and 30% planned (give or take 20%). Each show/performance is like a unique experience with songs that never quite get played the same way ever again. Demo of Thrones was recorded in two takes by our friend Jeff Kaleth of Astral Mass. Take one: the two of us playing together, no edits. Take two: Ryan basically doing an overdub solo bass track over the entire recording. It’s a fun experience, but we really don’t let Mormont out of the living room all that much, only a couple times a year, given our first musical priority is the Mound Builders. As such, we don’t have any plans to produce a full-length project at this time, but who knows? Even George R.R. Martin is supposedly finishing the last book!